The 49ers, Eagles, Lions and Cowboys rule the NFC: but who has the edge?

<span>Photograph: Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports</span>
Photograph: Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

It now looks like a four-team battle to see who emerges as victor in the NFC championship game after the San Francisco 49ers42-19 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Which of the teams is most likely to make it to the Super Bowl though?

1) San Francisco 49ers (9-3, 1st place NFC West)

Strengths: You’ve probably heard this before but the 49ers are the most well-balanced team in the league. While Brock Purdy will always be the main story in San Francisco, it’s less about the quarterback and more about his offensive weapons. The 49ers have an unbelievable offense, with running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end George Kittle and multitasking receiver Deebo Samuel alone representing a murders’ row that can beat teams both in the air and on the ground. If you combine San Francisco’s offense with an extremely effective defense, it’s hard not to rank them as the most dangerous team in the NFC right now, even if Philadelphia have won one more game.

Weaknesses: Purdy has saved his best performances for the biggest games this year, including four-touchdown performances against the Dallas Cowboys and the Eagles. However, he’s shown understandable signs of regression throughout his sophomore season and he isn’t quite the proven QB that Jalen Hurts or Dak Prescott is. Also, the 49ers’ midseason slump exposed holes in their pass rush. That feels like nitpicking after Sunday’s statement game, but we can’t assume all the team’s issues have been permanently fixed.

2) Philadelphia Eagles (10-2, 1st place NFC East)

Strengths: While today’s loss dropped the Eagles’ chances at the top seed from 79.5% to 53.9%, they’re still in the driver’s seat to maintain home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s impossible to overstate how huge of an advantage that is in the NFL playoffs. While Prescott is currently the flavor-of-the-month among quarterbacks, the dual-threat Hurts is still probably the MVP favorite.

Weaknesses: In their four previous games before their loss to the Niners, the Eagles trailed in the second half. While Philly eventually were able to win all four of those games, Sunday’s loss was a reminder that it’s not a recipe for success against the best teams. Hurts has had a great season, but it’s also notable that he already has 10 interceptions on the year – he had six in whole of the last regular season – not ideal when he’s the biggest part of your offense.

3) Dallas Cowboys (9-3, 2nd place, NFC East)

Strengths: The Cowboys’ development into a dark horse Super Bowl contender is centered around Prescott. At the moment, Prescott is playing like the best quarterback in the league, particularly after his three-touchdown performance on Thursday Night Football. In six of his last seven games, he’s had a passer rating of at least 109.3, and he is second in QBR over the entire season to only Purdy. Will this last? That may determine whether the Cowboys can finally return to the Super Bowl or whether they will falter in the divisional round yet again.

Weaknesses: Thanks in part to Prescott, the Cowboys have a fantastic passing offense. The problem is that the running game isn’t quite up to snuff. If they want to overtake the Eagles and the 49ers, Tony Pollard and the rest of the running backs are going to have to start making a bigger impact.

4) Detroit Lions (9-3, 1st place, NFC North)

Strengths: Under head coach Dan Campbell, the Detroit Lions play an old-school brand of football that’s centered around the running game. They’re the third-best rushing team in the league this season and the best in the NFC. That works wonders when combined with a QB like Jared Goff, who has already thrown for over 3,000 yards on the season.

Weaknesses: The Lions have had a legitimately great season, perhaps even surpassing the preseason hype. Goff is among the Detroit players with playoff experience – he made the Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams – but this season he’s shown a troubling tendency to turn the ball over. Thanks to this, he has a QBR of 60.6, the lowest of the four quarterbacks listed here. On top of this, the defense is still a work in progress. It feels like they’re a year away but, to be fair, they are already ahead of schedule. Maybe it will all even out.

MVP of the week

Mike Evans, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Evans had a fine day, with seven catches for 162 yards in the Bucs’ 21-18 win over the Carolina Panthers, a result that keeps them one win behind the Atlanta Falcons in the race for the NFC South. But more impressive is the fact that Evans now has more than 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first 10 seasons in the NFL. The only other player in league history with 10 straight seasons of more than 1,000 receiving yards? One Jerry Lee Rice.

Video of the week

When Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill went 78 yards for his first touchdown against the Washington Commanders, he celebrates in the end zone with his teammates in suitably epic fashion. If there was one setback for Hill during the Dolphins’ 45-15 win, it was that he didn’t have much left for an encore when he swiftly followed it up with a 60-yard TD.

This was Hill’s eighth 100-yard game of the season, tying a 36-year-old Dolphins record, with five more games still on the schedule. At this point, Hill has not only earned the right to celebrate however he wishes, he has a legitimate MVP case.

Stat of the week

2-1. That’s the number of safeties the Jets have scored this season in the first-quarter compared to offensive touchdowns, a stat that says a lot about the team’s pathetic offense compared to their brilliant defense (and very good punting unit).

Sunday’s safety gave them a 2-0 lead before they ended up losing 13-8 to the Falcons. It turns out that not having a viable backup plan after Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 1 had exactly the effect on the offense that one could have predicted. If you happened to believe Rodgers’s comments suggesting that he could return from his achilles injury this season, that improbability increasingly looks like an impossibility.

Elsewhere around the league

-- There was a stat doing the rounds on Sunday afternoon that showed Jordan Love had 2,599 yards and a 5-6 record over his first 11 NFL starts, exactly the same numbers as his predecessor in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers. After Love led the Packers to victory over the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, he now has a 6-6 record as starter, better than Rodgers (5-7) managed over that span. Love also has two more touchdowns than Rodgers in their first 12 starts. Love has a long way to go to match Rodgers’s feats but it looks like the Packers made a good decision when they chose his successor. The victory, which was helped by two non-calls on apparent pass interferences on the Chiefs’ final drive, also lifted Green Bay into a wildcard spot in the NFC.

-- In a battle of bubble teams, the 6-5 Houston Texans faced the 6-5 Denver Broncos. Neither team’s QB had a stellar game. Denver’s Russell Wilson threw three picks while Denver’s defense sacked standout rookie CJ Stroud five times. The Texans had the lead the entire time but almost allowed the Broncos to come back in the game’s final seconds. Unfortunately for Denver, Wilson saved his final interception for the last seconds of the game as Houston’s Jimmie Ward picked him off in the end zone to seal a 22-17 victory. The Texans are now 7-5 while the Broncos are 6-6. There was sobering news for the Texans though: Stroud’s favorite target, Tank Dell, suffered a season-ending injury when he fractured his fibula after he was caught under a pile of Denver players.

-- With their win over the Broncos, the Texans briefly moved into the final AFC wildcard place. Almost immediately after Houston’s win, the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans headed into overtime. A Colts win would move them back into the playoff spots in place of the Texans.

When the Titans managed to take the lead on a Nick Folk field goal, it looked like Houston were going to dodge a bullet. Then, Everybody’s Favorite Backup Gardner Minshew set up a first-and-goal situation with a 55-yard throw to Alec Pierce. Two plays later, Minshew found Michael Pittman Jr in the end zone and completed a 31-28 win.

-- The New England Patriots’ lost season continues to get worse. Replacing struggling quarterback Mac Jones with backup Bailey Zappe ended up not being the answer. Zappe went 13-of-25 for 141 yards as his team were shut out 6-0 by the Los Angeles Chargers. On the other hand, the loss wasn’t a complete waste since a win would have essentially accomplished nothing more than hurting their draft position. The Patriots are 2-10 and still have an outside chance at landing the first overall pick.

-- The Pittsburgh Steelers ran into more than a little misfortune against the Arizona Cardinals. First, they lost starting quarterback Kenny Pickett to injury and then suffered through a rare NFL weather delay. By the time the game finally resumed, Pickett had been ruled out and was sitting on the sideline in a boot. In his place was former Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky. That gave the Cardinals a golden opportunity to notch just their third win of the season, which they did in blowout fashion beating Pittsburgh 24-10, dropping Pittsburgh’s record to 7-5.

-- Blast from the past! Joe Flacco, last seen playing for the New York Jets at the end of last season, made his return to the league on Sunday. The Cleveland Browns made the 38-year-old their fourth starting QB of the season earlier this week. It would have been a nice story if he led the Browns to victory over the Los Angeles Rams, and indeed he threw a touchdown that made it a one-point game in the fourth quarter, but the Rams eventually won 19-36. The Browns dropped to 7-5 but hang on to the final wildcard place in the AFC.